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Amanda Forsythe, Douglas Williams, and Carlos Fittante in Pergolesi's La Serva Padrona. Photo Kathy Wittman.

A Singer’s Notes 134: BEMF intertwines two Pergolesi farces and sublime singing from Dominique Labelle at Aston Magna.

This performance was a frolic. It displayed a combination of two quite different buffo operas, and yes, it worked. Pergolesi’s La Serva Padrona and Livietta e Tracollo combined, found a zany success. I had my doubts at first, but was laughing my head off soon enough. The better-known of the two, La Serva Padrona, revolves around the character Uberto, a pomposo, energetically sung by Douglas Williams. Sad Tracollo was sung winningly by Jesse Blumberg.

Aston Magna Music Festival 2017 – A Preview

The Aston Magna season, the 45th(!), is almost upon us. We can look forward to an extended schedule, adding fifth and sixth weekends at the Brandeis and Great Barrington venues, which is no longer on the Simon’s Rock campus, but at the recently renovated Saint James Place.

Michael Raymond-James and Rebecca Brooksher in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof." Photo Emma Rothenberg-Ware.

A Singer’s Notes 125: Four Good Things—Aston Magna, Two from TMC Orchestra, and the Berkshire Theatre Festival

Aston Magna’s J.S. Bach concert in The Mahaiwe Theatre was a banquet of riches. The music itself ranged from abject woe in Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen to vaudeville hijinks in The Singing Contest of Phoebus and Pan. Where do I begin? The unique singing of Dominque Labelle arrests the senses. You must listen to it. Ulysses Thomas’s rich, aristocratic voice, Jesse Blumberg’s clear, actorly voice, William Hite’s beautiful, beautiful tenor, each spoke eloquently. Above all, the redoubtable Frank Kelley’s complete control of the act of singing, his exaggeration (wildly funny), his movement, and most wonderful of all, the subtle creativity of his timing, brought the house down. He is the complete package.

Phyllis Curtin

A Singer’s Notes 123: a Tribute to Phyllis Curtin and the Opening of Aston Magna

Good-bye, intrepid mentor: girl from the South, great sense of humor, ears which heard better than God, straight talker, full of encouragement, indefatigable, for us who knew her, eternal. An American singer who with her frequent counterpart, Norman Treigle, showed the world that we Yanks could sing. Miss Curtin never sang a phrase that wasn’t dramatic. Many great artists have come and gone in our beloved Tanglewood family, but the very air is tinged with Phyllis Curtin.

Claudio Monteverdi, engraving, from "Fiori_poetici," 1644

A Singer’s Notes 110: A Blessed Weekend — Immersion in Monteverdi

Hours and hours of the composer’s music in a 24-hour span. I’ve heard a lot of bad Monteverdi—valiant efforts, not enough skill. The style is fundamentally performer-dependent. In Aston Magna’s Monteverdi concert on Saturday at Simon’s Rock and the Boston Early Music Festival’s performances of the Vespers and Orfeo Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon, we were able to hear these works with first-rate artists who have the right voices and the style under their belts. Half of the time, I was listening to duets by two tenors, a hallmark of Monteverdi’s larger works. These were brilliantly undertaken by Frank Kelley and William Hite in the Aston Magna concert.

Bernardo Strozzi, Portrait of Claudio Monteverdi (c.1630). Oil on canvas. Tiroler Landesmuseum Ferdinandeum.

A weekend of Monteverdi will conclude the Boston Early Music Festival and launch Aston Magna in Great Barrington

This spring has been teeming with a dizzying profusion of riches for the lover of early music in the Northeast. In April Carnegie Hall launched “Before Bach,” a month-long festival of Renaissance and Baroque music performed by the the most admired international groups and soloists in the field. Since this was an “on” year for The Boston Early Music Festival, an equally distinguished group of regulars and visitors just now packed about the same amount of musical activity into a week, supplemented by hosts of mostly outstanding comprimarii in its Fringe. This coming weekend BEMF’s western coda, consisting of Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610 and his Orfeo, both performed in the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington, will overlap with the first weekend of one of the oldest festivals of early music, Aston Magna.

André Bouys, Portrait of Marin Marais, Bibliothèque-Musée de l'Opéra National de Paris

A Singer’s Notes 74: the Gamba and the Voice — Bach and Marais

This was a marvelous concert. It had plenitude; there was abundance in it. It was partly the thought-out programming, as always with Dan Stepner’s concerts. But it was also the richness of experience, the ease of it. The viola da gamba gives the sense that around the straight narrowness of the tone, there is something else, full of suggestion. The instrument itself conjures you into listening twice—first to the actual sound, and then, almost against your will, to something else it puts into the room. The viol always seems a private confidant. I have heard Laura Jeppesen perform a great many times, and her playing on this occasion was more fluent than ever, and spoke intimate truth. It made a pact with the listener, a faith that something important was being said.

 

Eric Hoeprich

The Voice (Kristen Watson) Meets the Chalumeau (Eric Hoeprich), an Aston Magna Concert at Brandeis

Reluctant to miss an opportunity to hear the great clarinettist Eric Hoeprich, especially after his sensitively nuanced performance of Mozart’s Kegelstatt Trio for the Boston Early Music Festival, I found it necessary, unfortunately, to miss an important BEMF evening in order to make the trek out to Brandeis. Daniel Stepner in fact apologized for the conflict, promising to avoid them in the future. Indeed, it would be to the advantage of Boston audiences if the two festivals could pool their resources to make it possible for BEMF audiences to hear the Aston Magna musicians, especially this one, devoted to a rarely heard, obsolete elder sibling of the clarinet, the chalumeau.